The LW pioneers

Fans tend to remember the openweight pioneers the most. Royce, Rickson, Shamrock etc... That being said I think the lightweight pioneers are an awesome part of MMA history. Uno vs Sato and Pulver vs Penn I were huge fights for the era.

Yuichi Watanabi was the first Shooto WW champ (154 lbs) in 91. I'd be lying if I said I ever saw him fight. Nakai captured the title in 94. Wander Braga was fighting and winning down in Brazil by 94 and went 12-0 by 98.

Business really started to pickup at LW by 99 when Uno beat Sato for the LW title. Ralf Gracie was fighting and winning in Extreme Fighting and fighters like Din Thomas were competing in WEF, Shooto, and Super Brawl. Uno vacated the Shooto title in 2000 to compete in the UFC and Gomi beat Sato for the vacant Shooto title in 2001. Pulver also beat Uno to become the first UFC LW champ in 2001.

When see the quality of the talent pool in the UFC LW division today and the quality of the talent at LW around the world in 2020, its remarkable it all started with such humble beginnings. It was only twenty years ago Uno vs Sato happened, less than twenty years ago that Pulver captured the first UFC LW title.

MMA in general has grown at a remarkable rate since the vale tudo/puroresu/shootfighting/NHB days but LW MMA has grown at the fastest rate among the divisions. I don't think anyone who watched Nakai attempt to defeat Rickson on VHS sat there and envisioned the Conor era, the Khabib/Tony saga, etc....

The LW division has a lot to offer fans in 2020. It should be epic.

Just an example of how far LW has come look at the UFC's start to the year...

In a couple days Conor and Cowboy (former LW champ and former LW title challenger) are headlining what will be one of the most watched PPVs of the year.

In Feb, Felder and Hooker are headlining in Australia at what will be one of the most attended MMA shows of the year.

In March, Oliveira and Lee are headlining in Brazil.

In April, Khabib and Tony will headline in NYC in one of the most anticipated fights ever in the minds of hardcore fans.

And just think, after stripping the first UFC LW champion, UFC did not even bother to have a LW title for several years.

I'd say the division has come a long way.

 

This blew everyone's mind at the time:

 

The Watanabi 91 title fight is shown here at 5:00...